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Wellum leaves AIC to go solo


Jonathan Wellum, who has been Michael Lee-Chin's right-hand man in AIC Ltd.'s roller-coaster history, is leaving the billionaire's firm to strike out on his own.

After Manulife Financial Corp. bought the fund assets of AIC in September, Mr. Wellum became chief executive officer and chief investment officer of Portland Investment Counsel (formerly AIC Investment Services), which runs some AIC funds on contract.

But Mr. Wellum says he is only 48 - young enough to set up Rocklinc Investment Partners in Burlington, Ont., to run money for high-net-worth individuals and institutions. With Manulife in the picture now, "it's a natural transition," says Mr. Wellum, who leaves by year end. "Michael ... has been 100 per cent supportive. He'd rather I stayed, but he understands."

The pair, who became friends about 20 years ago after meeting at the gym at McMaster University, built AIC into a fund business focused on value investing. But its financially-focused funds lagged during the recent commodity boom, and assets left the firm. Over the past three years, Mr. Wellum has been juggling roles of CEO and CIO at AIC to stem net redemptions. And he continued to run the $615-million AIC Diversified Canada Fund.

This isn't the first time he has struck out on his own. He left AIC in 1999 to set up Georgian Capital Partners Inc. He continued to run AIC Diversified Canada, but it wasn't easy for his firm's funds to gain traction. He returned to AIC in 2002. It's going to be different this time because Rocklinc won't get into mutual funds, he says.

Portland fund manager James Cole, who runs the $268-million AIC Canadian Focused Fund, will take over AIC Diversified Canada. Mr. Wellum expects Manulife will consider merging the two because they have similar mandates.

Mr. Lee-Chin, who owns Portland Holdings Inc., will take over the role of CEO at its Portland Investment Counsel unit, which has about $2.2-billion in assets. Portland fixed-income manager Randy LeClair will become CIO.

Mr. Wellum says he has "done well financially himself," and wants to do other things, too. He is currently a senior fellow with Cardus [formerly Work Research Foundation], a Canadian think tank for whom he has written some papers. "I love the investment business, but at the same time I want to be able to express my opinions in the capital markets area," he says.

© 2007 The Globe and Mail. All rights reserved.

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